TAHOE/TRUCKEE — With ridership lower than expected, the future of the free North Tahoe-Truckee Coordinated Ski Shuttle is in limbo.
During the shuttle’s 44 days of operation this winter, 3,206 passengers were taken to and from various North Shore ski resorts by way of a five-bus fleet, averaging 73 riders a day between Dec. 24 and March 31.
“I was obviously disappointed in the ridership statistics,” said Jan Colyer, executive director of the Truckee/North Tahoe Transportation Management Association, adding that an aim for a startup program is to have seven passengers per hour.
The most popular route was Incline to Squaw Valley, carrying 2,445 passengers, or 76 percent of total ridership. With 198.4 vehicle service hours for that route, it averaged 12 passengers per hour at an estimated operating cost of $15.13 per rider.
The West Shore to Squaw Valley route carried 443 passengers over 245.5 service hours, averaging 2 passengers per hour at an estimated cost of $103.34. Northstar to Squaw Valley carried 318 passengers over 310.2 vehicle service hours, averaging 1 passenger per hour for a cost of $181.90.
For all routes, 754.2 vehicle service hours were provided, averaging 4 passengers per hour at an estimated per-rider cost of $43.86.
Peak ridership times were in the afternoon, with 2,136 riders compared to 1,070 riders in the morning. Ridership after mid-March fell “substantially,” according to the report.
Total cost to provide the service was $224,289, with 73.7 percent paid to Amador Stage Lines for the vehicles and their operation, and $8,000 going to LSC Transportation Consultants.
According to a post-service report from LSC, if public funding can be used to purchase a transit fleet, similar to the BlueGo transit program serving the South Shore and Heavenly Mountain Resort, the annual cost for the service could decrease by 35 percent to 40 percent.
Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts financed $169,000 of the service, with the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association ($65,900), Homewood Mountain Resort ($5,700) and town of Truckee ($5,000) funding the rest, equalling $245,600. The excess $21,311 can either be returned to the funding partners in proportion to their contribution or be used for future funding.
Later this month, Squaw Valley/Alpine and other program funders are expected to meet to discuss the shuttle’s future, said Mike Livak, Squaw Valley executive vice president.
“We believe lessons from this year’s free shuttle service will help us continue to grow a thriving regional transit system over time,” he said in a statement.
According to the LSC report, while performance is important in determining whether any transit program should continue, its alignment with regional goals and strategies should also be taken into account.
In this case, the shuttle helps enhance the ability to market the region as a single ski destination, encourages the shift from a “drive-up” market to a “fly-in” market and address environmental goals, according to the report.
“We evaluate all pieces of a pilot program,” Colyer said. “The future of the program will be determined by the funding partners soon.”
Of 53 filled-out passenger surveys, half said they used the shuttle to go skiing or snowboarding, 46 percent were traveling to/ from work, and remaining riders were shopping, dining or “other.”
As to whether the service enhances North Tahoe as a ski destination, 79 percent responded in the affirmative, 17 percent were unsure and 2 percent said no. Further, 91 percent thought the service should run in future years.
Suggestions offered were to provide service on more days, provide service every day, provide service on Fridays and provide more runs on the weekends, among others.